Astrology, Archetypes, and Alchemy
In this final section of my remarks tonight I’m going to speak about the meeting between astrology and depth psychology. Since Jung’s discovery of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, astrology has a new basis. Planetary symbolism can now be linked to timeless mythic themes, characters, and patterns of human experience. Returning to tonight’s initial theme, I think that ultimately what we can predict through astrology is the emergence of the archetypes, such as plutonian Death-Rebirth, the enrapturing venusian Beloved, the Anima or Animus; the Neptunian Messiah, Savior, or Victim; the saturnian Crone or Kronos, the Wise Old Man or Woman. Asteroid transits manifest goddesses Ceres-Demeter, Juno-Hera, Vesta-Hestia, and Pallas-Athena. Depth psychology gives astrologers a mythic language that deepens our work, while transits and progressions enable us to precisely anticipate the appearance of the archetypes identified by Jung. Each archetype is a pattern of transformation within the unconscious. Earlier we saw how contacts to the natal Moon evoke the Mother archetype. Remember Ben, the man with Moon square Pluto who wanted to dump his girlfriend, who was challenged to transform his experience of emotions and of women.
The archetypal Hero/Heroine or Warrior is often constellated during transits involving Mars. While transiting Pluto squared natal Mars in Pisces, George, a gay man in a long-term relationship, grappled with sex addiction, expressed through a series of anonymous sexual encounters at steamy bath houses (Mars in Pisces). George had a dream of wild horses breaking out of their corral, running free, with fiery steam flaring from their nostrils. He felt he needed to experience unrestrained libido, and this was symbolized within the unconscious. This is consistent with Pluto-Mars symbolism. But the process didn’t end there. He felt immense remorse, and feared he had endangered himself and his partner through exposure to STDs. Was it safe to let the horses run wild? While meditating on the dream, George saw one of the wild horses turn into a camel, an austere animal that can endure dry periods in the desert, representing a part of him that can renounce or delay gratification. The shift from wild horses to a camel reflected a significant internal shift. It is fascinating to observe planetary transits translated into symbols within the unconscious, symbols that release immense energies within us.
Later George dreamed that a man was in the water wrestling with an enormous snake that was wrapped around his body. This, too, reflects Mars in Pisces: a mythic battle in water. This dream represents the heroic masculine principle grappling with the primitive instinctual psyche. In the eternal myth of the Hero, the Hero slays the Dragon, Monster, Gorgon, or Serpent deity through a primordial act of phallic selfassertion. Marduk slays the dragon Tiamat. Zeus slays the serpent Typhon. George has been enveloped in a regressive union with the energies of the unconscious, with what Jung called the instinctual psyche. One must be able to experience instinctual life force, without being consumed or overwhelmed by it. George is involved in a plutonian transmutation of his Mars energy. This example shows how astrology illuminates not just events but also patterns of transformation that tend to occur within each archetype.
An intriguing area of Jung’s research was his study of the symbolism of alchemy, that branch of the esoteric wisdom in which transformations of physical matter are analogous to stages of psychological transformation. Most alchemists were also astrologers—including Dr. Jung. And perhaps conscious astrologers can also become alchemists. I’m going to sketch out some speculative ideas about the relationship between astrology, alchemy, and the psychology of the evolving self, focusing on the astrological symbol of the Sun. For just as alchemists sought to transform base metals into gold, the goal of astrologers is to become a Sun, a conscious center.
In my work I focus on helping the client develop a cohesive sense of self, to evolve the Sun. I don’t believe in premature attempts to transcend the ego. We have to individuate, to unfold the self. Before I delve into some alchemical themes, I want to tell you a little about Heinz Kohut’s theory of Self Psychology, which is useful for understanding solar psychology. According to Kohut, we develop a cohesive self by receiving from our lunar caregivers and attachment figures (mother, father, friend, lover) the nutrient of mirroring, which makes us feel seen, validated, special, and wonderful. A parent affirms a child through responsiveness and acknowledgement of the child’s thoughts, feelings, and personhood. Mirroring affirms us, builds self-esteem, and gives us confidence to express our talents and emanate solar radiance. It enables us to develop healthy narcissism, a sunny feeling of being lovable and special, a bright star. In contrast, if we are starved of mirroring and validation, we become depressed, deflated. This inner emptiness becomes the root cause of many symptomatic behaviors, such as addictions, and compulsive gambling, stealing, eating, or risk-taking, all of which can be understood as attempts to energize a depleted sense of self. George’s sexual compulsions intensified while transiting Saturn was conjunct his Cancer Sun in the 7th house. His boyfriend had been drinking too much and flirting with other men at parties, causing George to feel depressed, wounded, and undesirable. This contributed to his addictive sexual escapades.
Alternatively, if our solar narcissism is wounded, we may develop an unhealthy sense of entitlement, and a constant need for attention or to be seen as special. These are negative expressions of the Sun: excessive pride, self-importance, grandiosity. But the Sun also signifies our healthy strivings to be seen, to externalize our individuality, according to the Sun’s house, sign, and aspects. For example, the Sun’s house position indicates the area where we seek to radiate the true light of our individuality. With Sun in the 2nd house: through earning, physical comfort, and acquisitions; Sun in the 11th house: through involvement in groups, organizations, or social activism; in the 9th house: through intellectual pursuits and travel; in the 4th house: through an evolved home, family, and emotional life; in the 7th house: through friendship, love, and marriage.
By identifying the potentials suggested by the natal Sun’s placement, astrologers can affirm and reinvigorate the self. Jim, a man with Sun-Mercury-Venus in Leo in his 3rd house wrote a self-published book, but had a lot of wounded pride about his unrecognized talents as a writer. While transiting Neptune opposed his Sun, Jim dreamed repeatedly of celebrities and movie stars. Celebrities represent the solar principle of radiance and successfully externalizing one’s identity. They remind Jim of his desire for recognition. But the Sun also signifies self-validation, enjoying who we are. Jim’s dream of being a famous writer hasn’t been fulfilled, but he still has a lot of fun with his writing, and he invests himself fully in this work because it gives him enjoyment to do so. The Sun is what lights us up. We find fulfillment and take pride in achieving our personal goals. That is the way of the Sun.
Now I’m going to attempt to relate the unfolding of the solar self to a series of alchemical operations, symbolized by Sun’s aspects to various planets. The Sun symbolizes the royal archetype: the King or Queen, the fullness of selfhood and individuality. Pictorial images of the medieval alchemists often depicted the King and Queen in various conditions to portray stages in the evolution of the self. In some alchemical images, a King and Queen meet, embrace, and make love. This corresponds to the symbolism of Venus-Sun, signifying attraction and relatedness. We are stirred by the Beloved, experiencing pleasure, connectedness, and mutual responsiveness.
Sometimes the King is portrayed majestically seated on his throne, which I relate to Jupiter-Sun symbolism. Under Jupiter-Sun contacts (by natal aspect, transit, or progression) we emanate warmth, generosity, and a hopeful outlook, and find opportunities for positive projection of the self into the world.
In one alchemical picture, a ravenous wolf devours the old King, symbol of the ruling attitude of consciousness. According to Edward Edinger (1985), “the ego has been devoured by hungry desirousness. The wolf in turn is fed to the fire. But wolf=desire and desire=fire. Thus desirousness consumes itself” (p. 19). Then the king is reborn from the fire; passion and desire resurrect the King. At times we are transformed by rousing our fiery Mars drives and motivation. This image depicts the alchemical procedure called calcinatio, in which a substance is heated until reduced to ashes. Interpreted psychologically, calcinatio refers to burning up and consuming fiery emotions, desires, and urges for power. Calcinatio generally occurs during transits or progressions involving Mars. Think of George grappling with fiery horses of desire while Pluto squared natal Mars.
At other times, the self is transformed through water. The King is often portrayed as drowning, or bathing in a pool of water with a white dove hovering over his head. The drowning and bathing motifs in alchemy refer to the procedure known as solutio, the alchemical bath, which I relate to Neptune, especially Neptune-Sun aspects. Under these contacts we experience watery initiations, spiritual baptism and purification, an immersion in the unconscious through dreams and fantasy, or illumination in a state of faith, openness, and receptivity. We experience confusing meltdowns, grandiose fantasies, or receive spiritual blessings, or all of these at the same time. When Neptune was conjunct my natal Sun I was living in the woods surrounded by beautiful trees and birds. It was a period of intense meditation and creativity as I spent an entire year crafting the book of my dreams, The Nine Stages of Spiritual Apprenticeship. Gripped by fantasies that I was writing a very important work I printed far too many copies of the book, and lost a lot of money. I experienced the Neptunian alchemical bath, full of visions and grace; I also “took a bath” financially. Under Neptune-Sun contacts we may experience periods of inflation and grandiosity; but according to Kohut, inflation is a normal part of the creative process: we fill with energy and enthusiasm as we create. It’s okay as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously.
After the bath we need to find solid ground. In one image the drowning old King calls out for help to his son, the young King, who stands on land. According to Edward Edinger (1985), “the old ruling principle, which has undergone solutio, is calling out to be coagulated again in a new, regenerated form” (p. 52). The coagulatio stage of alchemy refers to the solidification of liquids and vapors into material form, and represents coming into form in a specific place and time, becoming fully embodied, grounded, and practical. I relate this process to Saturn-Sun aspects, which denote work, selfdiscipline, determination, gaining credentials or seniority.
Martha Stewart (August 3, 1941, 1:33 pm, Jersey City, NJ) has Sun 10 Leo 57 conjunct Pluto 4 Leo 07, square the ascendant, near the midheaven. Her recent legal struggles, her very public trial, her conviction and sentencing, all have occurred while transiting Pluto in Sagittarius has been forming a sesquiquadrate (135 degree) aspect to her natal Pluto and the Sun-Pluto midpoint. Her egotism and imperious, condescending behavior have been in full public view, as has been her indomitable confidence and pride (Leo Sun). One can only hope that it will be a spiritual turning point in her evolution to go through such a deeply humbling experience while transiting Pluto aspects her natal Sun-Pluto.
At these times we need to develop a sense of humor about ourselves and come through the process with self-love and self-respect. Just as alchemical procedures transformed base metals and elements, such as smelly sulphur and bitter salt, Pluto transits to the Sun may require transforming our sulphury anger and bitterness. Once we move through our arrogance and self-importance, an amazing transformation occurs: we begin to express our authentic individuality with power and effectiveness, free of imperious or superior attitudes. We become a clear, warm Sun, emanating light source, bright star in the infinite sky.
The transformation of the self is portrayed in the alchemical symbol of the ouroboros, the serpent or dragon that eats its own tail. In some images, two crowned snakes devour one another, merging into one. The crowned serpents relate this symbol to the King. In the Coptic language ouro means king, and in Hebrew ob means a snake; thus, the ouroboros means the “king snake” or “snake king.” This suggests to me that the psychology of the ego-King is transcended and transformed. A related symbol is the caduceus with its two coiled snakes, symbolizing cosmic energy and its microcosmic form in the human body, the kundalini. Think of George’s dream of wrestling with the Great Serpent. We encounter the numinous, regenerative power of the deep unconscious with its innate instinct toward transformation. The plutonian ouroboros represents the culminating stage of alchemy, the conunctio, described by Edward Edinger as “the creation of consciousness through the union of opposites.” The conunctio is the fusion of opposing elements into a more complex synthesis. It is the union of illness and health, spirituality and emotional attachment, wild horses and austere camel, wealthy tycoon and industrious young worker—just to name a few examples we’ve seen tonight.
Contacts of Sun and Pluto symbolize a pivotal conunctio, a joining of the two poles of the psyche: ego and divinity, conscious self and the deep unconscious, human and nature, King and Dragon. Astrologically, the joining of the Dragon’s mouth and tail is also seen in the eternal unity of Rahu and Ketu, the moon’s nodes, signifying the intertwining of past and future, merged into one dynamic, present moment, full of infinite possibilities. From royal ego to the great Dragon of transformation, we awaken through the endless journey of cyclical Time—the eternal return. And this brings us back to the realm of astrology.
With astrology we hold the key to real alchemy, real transformations of the self. Of course, transformation of personality can be a slow, arduous process. Alchemists often despaired when their experiments failed to create gold. But that point of despair might be the moment when the practitioner would have an intense dream or visionary experience that revealed the philosopher’s stone in the inner, imaginal world. Similarly, astrologers sometimes despair when considering the unending transits that await us. There is no one, benefic, endof- the-rainbow transit that transforms us. It is by going through an endless series of transits and developmental tasks that we are transformed into the gold of the individuated self. If we live through each transit and each phase of life with consciousness, at any moment there can be an explosion of light in the alchemical flask, a sudden illumination. This is what occurs through a lifelong study of astrology, and dedication to the tasks it reveals to us. For astrologers this illumination can occur each time we open ourselves to the sacred interpretive moment in which everything we need to know is revealed to us.
Astrology and Meditation
This brings us to the practice of astrology and meditation. Let us approach astrology with a quiet mind, a contemplative attitude. To do this, begin by opening your breath. Try this now. Come to center. Next, draw or visualize your natal chart, and your current transits and progressions. As you imagine or draw these planets, feel them. Feel the significance of your Sun’s placement by sign and house. Feel how the Sun’s aspects denote various features and faculties of the complex, multi-dimensional person that you are. What does your chartindicate about how your individuality (Sun) can most clearly express itself? Reflecting on your chart, see who you are and imagine who you could become. Visualize outcomes andpossibilities. Rather than relying on what books and experts tell you, find the truth of planetary symbols in the living moment, accessing your intuition.
As you meditate on your chart, practice the technique of symbol amplification, approaching planetary symbols with openness to multiple interpretations. As you consider each chart symbol ask, “What is the purpose of this? What is the highest expression of this planet? What is the secret intention of this process?”
Actively shape the meaning of what unfolds. Astrology is not a practice of resignation to fate and cosmic powers. It is a practice of setting your own intention. You’re navigating here. You are piloting this ship. Form in your mind’s eye a vision of how your evolution wants to unfold in this moment.
Edinger, E. (1985). The Anatomy of the Psyche. La Salle, IL: Open Court.
Rudhyar, D. (1976). Person Centered Astrology. Santa Fe, NM: Aurora Press.
Rudhyar, D. (1973). An Astrological Mandala. New York: Vintage.
Ruperti, A. (1978). Cycles of Becoming. Sebastopol, CA: CRCS.
Roob, A. (2001). The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy and Mysticism, Koln, Germany: Taschen.
Please note that the names of all clients discussed in this article have been changed.